Empowering 21st Century Learners in STEM An Impetus for Change

By James S. May Ed.D.

"Students today prefer on-demand learning with visual stimulation in flexible but structured learning environments that have collaborative, experiential and authentic activities, and applied technologies. However, when we look at K-12 classrooms, we tend to find that most are still mired in a 19th century, industrial model of learning; they still tend to be teacher fronted, teacher driven, and focused, for the most part, on passive information exchange. Recent research suggests that we should move away from these more traditional practices. A recent meta-analysis of 225 studies of success in STEM courses comparing traditional lecture to active learning found that students in the traditional classes were 1.5 times more likely to fail; students taught with active learning outperformed those taught by lectures by 6 percentage points on exams (Freeman et. al).

Simply put, it is time to begin re-evaluating not only how we are teaching our students, but the materials we are using to teach them. Research into the expectations of 21st century learners reveals that we want learners to be able to do much more than read, write, and do math; we expect learners to also think critically and creatively, solve real life problems, use foreign languages, work in teams, collaborate and embrace diversity (Casner-Lotto & Barrington, 2006). And many educators have begun to agree with Sir Ken Robinson’s position that we are not going to get students to where they need to be by continuing to solve the problems of the future with the strategies of the past.

It is time to begin forging partnerships with organizations that offer innovative and engaging products and content delivery modalities that are not limited by the industrial model of learning. Lectures and traditional book learning need to be replaced with active engaging tools, hands-on activities and teaching strategies that equitably serve all populations of students. In the United States, Spanish speakers currently comprise less than one-fifth of the population, yet they are expected to make up nearly one-third of the population by 2060 (Krogstad & Lopez, 2014). So, in addition to engaging, interactive materials, content providers will also need to provide tools that embrace dual language, and allow students to learn literacy and content both in English and in their native/heritage languages.

This paper discusses cultural and academic impetus for change. It explains some of the historical underpinnings limiting that change, and offers a warning to the publishing industry, an industry that could stand to learn a little from the research on disruptive innovation. Static content online is still static content; it does not actively engage learners. Teachers and decision makers know this and are looking for companies like LJ Create who can provide interactive online and hands on learning resources that meet the standards and exceed the expectations of teachers."